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Transforming our Education Systems

COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause disruption and uncertainty – how are we responding and what do we need to do to ensure a sustainable future for the Arts and Design & Technology.

2020 has been a challenging year for all of us, to say the least! And it’s not about to stop, as we enter another phase of uncertainty when schools and colleges re-open and a second wave predicted.

Lockdown has changed the way we communicate with each other, socialise and work. It has been a game changer in so many ways, seeing the hospitality and retail industries, public transport and education being abruptly halted in their tracks and having to find their own way through an enforced period of dormancy and out the other side. Many will not survive and we are already seeing huge job losses, with businesses closing permanently or drastically scrabbling to rescue what they can and shed the less effective parts of their business. Some however, have thrived and grown, adapting to a new environment and taking advantage of new systems and the ‘new’ normal!

Transformations are emerging from the initial chaos. Some businesses and organisations are taking full advantage of the disruption, making more effective use of existing technologies and developing new. We have also seen individuals transforming by making changes in patterns of behaviour and the ways they work and socialise.
The underlying worry is that this pandemic is not a one off and that our ‘normal’ world will be less secure and stable in the future. That there is no new normal and much of our previous logic and thinking can no longer help us.

Education is one of those areas which has had to transform and adapt quickly and dramatically – pushed into enforced new ways of delivering learning to both students and teachers. This has been one massive learning curve for all of us involved in education.
We have duly learnt how to get around Zoom, or other live video technologies and adapted or completely rewritten Schemes Of Work and lesson plans; re-arranged our personal/work lives to fit around the children and their new learning methods and our new working lives.

We need to get back to some sort of normality in the new world we have created, or that has been adapted/created for us. Some of us, particularly working with arts and design subject areas, are having to adapt to non-specialist classrooms, not able to use specialist equipment, or working on clean down rotas for rooms and equipment. None of this is conducive to practical teaching and learning. Practical lessons have to be given a completely new vision, but we are creatives and we can think out of the box and do this.

There has been support from some education organisations and especially CLEAPPS who have been extremely supportive at affecting workable solutions to Covid-19 restrictions. Mostly, schools have had to take their own initiative and do what works best for them under the ever changing guidelines. Zoom and other online platforms are transforming the way to teach. Communication being a critical issue, from school to home, teacher to teacher – hot-desking is not just for the office and teachers need to embrace technology to be able to deliver learning.
However, all this is especially difficult for teaching practical subjects such as art and design. Solutions for D&T subjects, in particular fashion and textiles, depend on what restrictions are in place in individual schools.

At the Textiles Skills Academy we realised that teacher CPD workshops and face-to-face courses planned months in advance, just weren’t going to happen and quickly needed to rethink how we could deliver much needed teacher support and training.

Textiles Skills Academy is a teacher support organisation and CPD deliverer.  We needed to rise to the challenge of developing online courses and began to create online Training Rooms for Textiles Teachers. These Training Rooms run through Facebook and are a fast and easy way of putting together relevant knowledge, visuals, downloadable guides, video tutorials and lots of other resources, onto an easily accessible platform for teachers. Most people have a Facebook account and if not, they are easy to set up and once in the Training Room, teachers recognise the format and understand how to access and download what they need.

We have launched 6 textile teachers Training Rooms so far and developing more as we get feedback from teachers using them. Live Zoom sessions with participants, is part of the training and throughout the lockdown period teachers from as far as Porto Rico and Jersey have been able to join us, which they otherwise would not have in previous ‘normal’, workshop events.

Online courses are also being developed for student access, which will enable those who need to isolate, or cannot attend class for some reason, or those where location is an issue, can still access the learning resources they need.

These online courses are a game changer, as we begin to understand that this is the start of how our new world will look. It was always going to happen, the pandemic has just accelerated the process, forcing us to change the way we work, learn and socialise. They are also a more cost and time efficient method of delivering training, as no cover is needed and can be completed at home or at school, over a period of time, rather than taking days out of school. They will never completely replace face-to-face workshops, as we miss the human interaction and networking, but for now they will enable us to still get the training we need.

Within Each Training Room teachers work through units and are able to ask questions to each other and/or the trainers, through the discussions pages. There are also regular live Zoom sessions with the course trainer, where teachers can communicate live with each other and ask questions. We have also designed a course specifically for teachers who are facing working in non-specialist classrooms and/or with restricted resources and equipment. The techniques on this course are accessible and will adapt to a Scheme of Work for students of key stages 3-5 and will also adapt well to student use at home.

Inspirational textiles online course image

For more information go to the Online events page: https://textilesskillscentre.com/online-events/

COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to rethink what matters most in education and what we need as a society. So far the initial response has been reactive and adaptive, but we could be looking at a transition phase towards hybrid schooling (virtual and physical). This transition could allow for the arrival of a pedagogical moment and an opportunity to completely revise our current teaching/learning methods rather than simply returning to what was, when this ‘phase’ ends.

There needs to be ever stronger links with industry, to ensure the education we are delivering is appropriate to support the needs of a very changing landscape. Particularly in retail, where we see different ways of consumption developing and evolving habits and needs of society.

As we emerge from this enforced situation, our challenge will be not to proceed exactly as before, but to reflect on what has happened and what we have experienced and change the systems we have worked with for decades.

Having traditionally relied on passive forms of learning, mostly focused on direct instruction and memorizing, we now need more interactive methods that promote critical and individual thinking for the innovation-driven economy we live in today. Being more practical subjects, Art and design are by nature, interactive and can also be used to support learning across more passive fields. We need to plan for a hybrid system of educating which involves mixed online and face-to-face teaching, that will draw on both physical and virtual spaces. Future education will incorporate methods of delivering online and allowing student access to resources, to enable completion of tasks in school.

There is a whole other discussion that needs to be had around the lack of access to high-speed broadband, or digital devices and the increasing distance between the wealthier and low-income communities. This has to be tackled as we move into more technology driven forms of educating/learning.

The crisis has also highlighted the need to develop networked school communities and create a stronger educational home-school centre. We have seen collaborative networks, both formal and informal, emerging online and off. Networking is essential at every level of education, from teacher groups to student collaborations. Online groups have been a massive support to teachers, who have gone from forming new alliances for manufacturing PPE, to giving advice and ideas on ever changing situations, rules and restrictions, when planning for school return.

Networks can bridge gaps not filled by formal organisations; they can be focused on specific areas of knowledge where individuals can mentor, or support each. Informal networks are often trusted more, as they will often have different motivation than more formal groups.

Textiles Skills Academy manages a 4000+ strong, Textile Teachers Centre Facebook group and as with other FB networks, this really has come into its own, being an incredibly supportive resource and communication hub throughout the lockdown. Teachers have supported themselves and found new ways of delivering and sharing ideas and resources. A mentorship scheme is also set up within the group, enabling individuals to access or offer 121 support. Facebook was also developing new applications throughout the lockdown, as demand increased for more ‘Live’ opportunities. Within the platform it enabled live ‘Rooms’ for small groups to come together and communicate with each other.

Networks show they can provide huge support for teachers through collaboration and working in partnerships; facilitate peer-learning (such as sharing experience, information, challenges, ideas, solutions and knowledge) and encourage student/teacher learning experiences.

Despite the incredible challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have been given an opportunity to transform the education system. We can evolve and change the overall purpose, content and delivery of education in the long term and prepare our education system to deal with future pandemics and crisis. This in collaboration with our networks, including overseas experiences and knowledge.

For more information please go to the Online events page: https://textilesskillscentre.com/online-events/